Dubai Desert Classic: Hot Wallace can putt his way to victory

Matt Wallace and new caddie Gareth Lord
Matt Wallace and new caddie Gareth Lord in Abu Dhabi

The European Tour hops from Abu Dhabi to Dubai for the Dubai Desert Classic this week so read Steve's detailed preview ahead of Thursday's start here...

"Herbert ranked fifth for Greens In regulation and 11 of the last 15 winners have ranked inside the top-five for that stat but even if you do hit lots of greens, you still have to putt well."

Tournament History

First staged as long ago as 1989, the Dubai Desert Classic was the first event to be staged on the Arabian Peninsula. There was no event in 1991 so this is the 32nd edition.

Venue

Emirates Golf Club, Dubai, UAE.

Course Details

Par 72, 7,353 yards
Stroke Index in 2020 - 73.28

Apart from the 1999 and 2000 renewals, the Majlis course, designed by Karl Litten and opened in 1988, has hosted the event since its inception.

The fairways are fairly generous and the rough isn't often brutal. The greens are of an average size and they're usually set at around 11.5/12 on the stimpmeter. The whole course is laid to Bermuda grass and water is in play on 10 holes.

EMIRATES 2021 4.jpg

The front nine ends with three tough holes in four - the sixth, eighth and ninth, which are all strong par fours - so with three par fives (the 10th, 13th and 18th), the back nine is the easier nine - although the par four 12th hole is a tricky one. Historically it's often ranked as the toughest but it was only the third hardest last year - averaging 4.29.

The front nine last year, which has a par of 35, averaged 36.21 and the back nine 37.07 but with the three par fives, the back nine's par equals 37 so in the tough conditions last year it played more than a stroke easier but in benign conditions it often creeps closer to two strokes easier than the front-nine.

The Majlis is a typically exposed desert track so the wind is very often a factor and if it does get up, the scoring is much harder than in calm conditions. As an indication of how different the course plays in the wind, last year's winner, Lucas Herbert, won in only nine-under-par (the highest ever tournament aggregate score) but 12 months earlier, Bryson DeChambeau got to -24, which was the event's record low score.

The early forecasts indicate that we're in for a reasonably benign week.

Weather Forecast

TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at 4:00 on Thursday, 07:30 on Friday and, 08:00 on Saturday and 07:00 on Sunday.

Last Five Winners with Pre-event Exchange Prices

2020 - Lucas Herbert -9 230.0229/1 (playoff)
2019 - Bryson DeChambeau -24 11.010/1
2018 - Li Haotong -23 180.0179/1
2017 - Sergio Garcia -19 22.021/1
2016 - Danny Willett -19 48.047/1

What Will it Take to Win the Dubai Desert Classic?

Length of the tee has been key here for years. Last year's winner, Lucas Herbert, ranked ninth for Driving Distance and Dean Burmester and Adri Arnaus, who finished tied for third, ranked first and sixth for DD.

Although he only ranked 26th for DD, big-hitting Bryson DeChambeau, won here two years ago and the six winners before him ranked 14th, fourth, 10th and first, fifth and fourth.

It certainly helps to hit it long but you don't have to hit it especially straight. Garcia ranked fourth for Driving Accuracy four years ago and the runner-up, Henrik Stenson, ranked first but that was really unusual. DA has been an almost an irrelevant stat, with no other winner ever ranking any better than 15th for fairways found. Herbert ranked 37th 12 months ago and the average DA ranking of the last ten victors is just 38.2.

Willett ranked 38th in 2016, Rory 68th in 2015, Stephen Gallacher ranked 52nd seven years ago, and Alvaro Quiros ranked just 55th when he won here ten years ago!

Herbert ranked fifth for Greens In regulation and 11 of the last 15 winners have ranked inside the top-five for that stat but even if you do hit lots of greens, you still have to putt well. Herbert only ranked 21st for Putting Average last year but DeChambeau ranked second two years ago, Li ranked first in 2018 and so did Danny Willett when he won here in 2016. The average P.A ranking for the last ten winners is just 9.5.

Is There an Angle In?

There are four venues that seem to correlate nicely with the Emirates - Dom Pedro Victoria, Doha, the Gary Player Country Club and last week's venue,

Dom Pedro Victoria hosts the Portugal Masters and there's plenty of evidence to suggest that's a tournament that correlates very nicely with this one.

Last year's winner, Herbert, finished second in Portugal in 2018, and Sergio Garcia, who won here three years ago, finished seventh in his one and only appearance there in the same year. The 2016 winner, Danny Willett, has finished inside the top-seven there three times and the three men to win this event before Rory McIlroy in 2015 all have a top-three finish there...

Stephen Gallacher, the winner here in 2013 and 2014, has finished third at Dom Pedro Victoria, Rafa Cabrera-Bello, the 2012 winner and 2016 runner-up, has finished second there, Andy Sullivan, who finished alongside Cabrera-Bello in tied second four years ago, has finished first and second at the Portugal Masters and two DDC winners, Alvaro Quiros (2011) and Richard Green (1997), have both won there. England's Lee Westwood, the 2009 winner of the Portugal Masters, has a great record here (really should have won the 2010 edition) and the inaugural winner in Portugal, journeyman pro Steve Webster, finished seventh and fifth here in 2013 and 2015.

Unfortunately, the Qatar Masters moved from Doha to Education City last year but form at the old venue is well worth close inspection. Christiaan Bezuidenhout, who was beaten by Herbert in extra time last year, finished second there in 2019 and as many as five players have won here and at Doha - Ernie Els, Henrik Stenson, Thomas Bjorn, and the two Spaniards, Quiros and Sergio.

As many as seven players to win the Nedbank Golf Challenge at the Gary Player Country Club have won this event and five Gary Player Course winners - Bezuidenhout, Alex Noren, Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer and Retief Goosen have finished second here

Form in the desert holds up well and as highlighted in yesterday's De-Brief, this event also correlates well with last week's in Abu Dhabi too.

And finally, in addition to the various course correlations, links form is well worth looking at too. Garcia has come very close to winning an Open on a couple of occasions and six of the last 14 players to win this title have also won an Open Championship.

The 2018 winner, Li Haotong, finished third in his very first Open in 2017 and although two-time winner, Gallacher (2013 and 2014), hasn't won an Open either, he's won the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and the 2012 champ, Cabrera-Bello, can't be described as prolific but he claimed his third European Tour four years ago in the Scottish Open at the Dundonald Links.

The course is fairly wind-exposed and it tends to get faster and harder as the week wares on which explains why links exponents do so well here.

Winner's Position and Exchange Price Pre-Round Four

2020 - Lucas Herbert - T13th trailing by six 300.0299/1
2019 - Bryson DeChambeau led by a stroke 1.9620/21
2018 - Li Haotong led by a stroke 3.711/4
2017 - Sergio Garcia led by three strokes 1.738/11
2016 - Danny Willett led by a stroke 2.6813/8

In-Play Tactics

As highlighted above in the course notes, how windy it is here is a determining factor as to how hard the course plays and it also has a huge bearing on how the tournament pans out. Last year's winner, Herbert, won with the highest winning total (-9) and the previous record high had been -11 (Alvaro Quiros in 2011) and it's no coincidence that those are the only two editions in which the winners have come from off the pace...

The tricky blustery conditions caused mayhem 12 months ago and although they'd been up with the pace earlier in the tournament, both the playoff protagonists, Herbert and Bezuidenhout, had trailed by six with a round to go yet they finished two strokes clear of the remainder having traded at 1000.0 during the final round!

Alvaro Quiros' victory here in 2011 was remarkable for a number of reasons. He made three eagles, including a two on the par four second hole and a hole-in-one during the final round and he also made a pair of triple-bogeys, one on day one, at the par five 10th, and one at the eighth hole on day four. But the most remarkable thing about his win was how far off the pace he had been before winning. He trailed by eight strokes after both rounds one and two and up until last year, that's the furthest any winner has trailed by a country mile...

In the last 20 years, Mark O'Meara, who was six adrift in 2004 and Quiros, who trailed by eight in 2011, are the only winners that weren't within four of the lead after round one. Herbert had sat third and two off the lead before dropping to 11th and four back at halfway and he's just the third tournament winner to be outside the top-ten at the halfway stage. Quiros ten years ago and Robert-Jan Derksen, the shock 2003 champ, who sat tied for 20th and five off the lead, are the other two. Every other course winner here has been inside the top-six places at halfway so unless the wind really blows, this is not a place to try and play catch-up.

DeChambeau sat second after round one in 2019, just one behind the early pacesetter, Matthew Fitzpatrick, but he led all the way after that and the 2017 winner, Garcia, was the sixth player to win wire-to-wire. Prior to last year, seven 54-hole leaders in-a-row picked up the trophy and in 20 of the 31 editions staged to date, the third round leader has gone on to win.

Market Leaders

Having won four of his last 20 starts, and with course form figures reading MC-55-8-3-3-38, last week's winner, Tyrrell Hatton deserves to head the market and it's not hard to argue a case for siding with him.

Hatton wins Abu Dhabi.jpg

He's won back-to-back tournaments before, the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and the Italian Open in 2017 and he tends to hold his form quite nicely. He's without doubt the one to beat and he's the very worthy favourite.

The US PGA Champion, Collin Morikawa, is an interesting tournament debutant given this week's PGA Tour action is at Torrey Pines, in his home state of California. In addition to hosting the Farmers Insurance Open, Torrey Pines is also this year's US Open host course so I can only assume Morikawa is being handsomely rewarded to appear here.

There's no reason to suggest a player of his calibre won't take to the course but only last week we witnessed another high-profile American, Justin Thomas, missing the cut in Abu Dhabi and I'm more than happy to leave Morikawa out here.

Tommy Fleetwood has only ordinary course form here and in nine starts to date, he has just two top-tens. He was tenth back in 2013 and sixth in 2018 and I'm more than happy to swerve him after yet another poor performance in-contention last week.

Having won the DP World Tour Championship in his penultimate start, Matthew Fitzpatrick wasn't at the races last week and like Thomas, he too missed out on weekend employment. He could improve considerably this week and contend but with course form figures reading MC-45-5-MC-16-45, this hasn't been a venue at which he's thrived at and I'm happy to leave him out.

Selection

I quite like one or two outsiders here so I'll have at least one runner here featuring in the Find Me a 100 Winner column later today or tomorrow but for now I'm playing just one - Matt Wallace.

The 30-year-old Englishman, who was a distant second to DeChambeau here two years ago (beaten by seven) has two other runners-up finishes in Dubai so he clearly enjoys desert golf. He was second to Rory McIlroy in the DP World Tour Championship in 2018 and he finished second at the inaugural Golf in Dubai Championship back in December.

Wallace began the year with a very promising seventh last week in Abu Dhabi where yet again, he putted very nicely indeed - ranking inside the top-ten for both Putting Average and Strokes Gained Putting for the third time in four starts.

Course form and region form are both big plusses for Wallace and so too is the new caddie - the vastly experienced Gareth Lord - who appeared on the bag last week. Lordy, who was bagman for Justin Rose last year, won an Open with Henrik Stenson and he could be just the man to keep Wallace calm and in check on the course. I though 30.029/1 was fair.

Selection:
Matt Wallace @ 30.029/1


*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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